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Touch says love when no words can

I cannot recall which ward at Auckland hospital I was visiting. But as I approached the room where one of my Religious Brothers was courageously walking his final journey, I could hear classical music. As I got to the door and looked inside, there was the Brothers’ nurse from Sydney (whose health care role bridged the Tasman – both New South Wales and New Zealand) sitting by the bed of Brother John Prendergast massaging his feet while by the bedside was a small CD player with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons playing. Despite his pain and being riddled with cancer, and knowing he was on that sacred final journey, John had the most beautiful smile on his face.

My wonderful Sister in law recalled in a letter to me the joy of holding her son Shannon in her arms for the first time. She wrote,

“Till the day I die Damien, I will never forget the joy of holding Shannon in my arms for the first time. Having a baby would have to be the deepest emotional experience that can happen to a woman and the most beautiful. A newborn almost transports you into another world away from inflation, greed, and violence, and leaves you laughing. And when you think about it some more, a baby would have to be the greatest teacher of us all; in that he teachers to find joy in all the simple little things in life. Shannon showed us for the first time that the garden is a wonderful place, the kitchen even more fascinating and bath time is splash time with a Capital S. They teach us the glorious fun of living and they make all our Christmases what they always should be. Unfortunately, they are only on loan and babyhood is so short. It is hard to believe that Shannon is almost two years old. That is why every precious moment with them should be savoured and enjoyed. I wonder what God will bless us with this time?”

I have never had the privilege and joy of being a father or mother but I can recall holding my godson Jacob in my arms several hours after he was born. It was one of the most ‘wow’ times of my life. So delicate, so ‘at peace’, so snuggled into my arms – so one with the world and gifting it with his presence.

John and Shannon and Jacob’s stories could not be in more stark contrast to Alen, a Bosnian baby born to a rape victim during the Serbian – Bosnian war of 1992 – 1995. Alen was one of hundreds of orphan babies abandoned at the height of this most barbaric of wars centred on ‘ethnic cleansing’. While Alen and the forty or more other babies were given the basics of food until the abandonment by staff of the orphanage for fear of their own lives, what they were starved of most was physical touch. Luckily a humanitarian group quickly became aware of the plight of the abandoned babies and they were collected and resettled with families in Italy and other European countries. But the scares remain to this day for Alen and the others.

On another very sad occasion I was visiting a Brother who had taught me at school. Denis was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and he knew it. He was so scared to know he was losing his awareness and ability to relate and connect: two of his greatest gifts. As I went to leave Denis hugged me tightly crying, “Please don’t leave me!” When I finally slipped away about thirty minutes later it was one of the hardest walking aways I have ever done, with tears streaming down my face.

You may recall that last year I had the privilege of some weeks of sabbatical and during that time I walked some 400 km of the Camino in the North of Spain. I loved it. While the Spanish countryside was beautiful, our walking companions wonderful, the beers, food and wine to be savoured, one of the things that made it really special was the presence of my Camino companion. As we walked we laughed and shared story, cried at times, stood in awe at others and generally honoured the gift of one another’s company. The icing on the cake, however, was the hug at the start of the day and the other that bookended it.

One of the most powerful learning moments of my life occurred when I was teaching away from Brisbane. I taught History and Geography in a co-educational school. One beautiful young lady, lets call her Simone, had been my student in both Year 9 and Year 10. The school finished at the end of Year 10 and Simone left to attend a large Senior Secondary College. I rarely saw Simone during her Senior schooling. Sadly, during her ‘Schoolies Week’, she was assaulted by two young men. The following February I was back teaching at the Junior Secondary College and just returned to my office when there was a knock on my door.

I looked up and there was Simone. She stepped into my office and burst into tears. I moved over to her and she feel into my arms and hugged me tightly. Her sobbing came from deep within her. She just cried and cried and her body shook. From deep within me a voice said, “shut up!” So all I did was stand there hugging her. I don’t think I have every felt so powerless in my life. I was empty. I could say nothing that could take away her pain. All I could do was come as a guest to her story, her trauma and her pain. All I could do was be present to her through my silence and my hugs.

Finally, I pulled up two chairs and we sat down. I took her hand as gently as I could and from deep within me came the words, “I’m sorry!” Simone looked at me. Her eyes, though still full of tears, seemed to know that I was there for her. After some time I asked her could I phone a female counsellor I knew who could walk the journey of healing with her and thankfully, Simone agreed.

There is something powerful, healing, wholesome and beautiful in human touch an expression of love. How many times have we heard a baby cry until they are picked up and cuddled? How many times have we had a baby or small child snuggle into our chests? Conversely how many times have we seen sadness in the eyes, hardness in the body and a lifelessness in the spirit of those who have been deprived of touch.

Touch must always come from a deep and profound place of respect. Touch says, “Namaste!” to the other: Namaste = the God and the sacred in me, see and honours the God and the sacred in you! But when touch, respectful touch, comes from a place of love it liberates, it gifts, it heals, it makes whole and it points heart and soul to life to the full!

1 thought on “Touch says love when no words can”

  1. Dear Damien, yet again, you are spot on! I so love your posts and resonate with them. My early life was touchless with a dear Dad who was so traumatized by war and my mother orphaned by the age of ten. I was in my early twenties before I made a conscious effort to hug each of them. I had always loved them both dearly but there was no touch. Today I question whether I am too touchy, I love a hug and to give one. Love and blessings to you Damien. Joan

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